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Saturday, January 31, 2009

John 1:1 "and the Word was"

Additional Reading:

RS reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (KJ, Dy, JB, NAB use similar wording.) However, NW reads: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in the beginning with God.”

Which translation of John 1:1, 2 agrees with the context? John 1:18 says: “No one has ever seen God.” Verse 14 clearly says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . we have beheld his glory.” Also, verses 1, 2 say that in the beginning he was “with God.” Can one be with someone and at the same time be that person? At John 17:3, Jesus addresses the Father as “the only true God”; so, Jesus as “a god” merely reflects his Father’s divine qualities.—Heb. 1:3.

Is the rendering “a god” consistent with the rules of Greek grammar? Some reference books argue strongly that the Greek text must be translated, “The Word was God.” But not all agree. In his article “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” Philip B. Harner said that such clauses as the one in John 1:1, “with an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning. They indicate that the logos has the nature of theos.” He suggests: “Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87) Thus, in this text, the fact that the word the‧os′ in its second occurrence is without the definite article (ho) and is placed before the verb in the sentence in Greek is significant. Interestingly, translators that insist on rendering John 1:1, “The Word was God,” do not hesitate to use the indefinite article (a, an) in their rendering of other passages where a singular anarthrous predicate noun occurs before the verb. Thus at John 6:70, JB and KJ both refer to Judas Iscariot as “a devil,” and at John 9:17 they describe Jesus as “a prophet.”

John J. McKenzie, S.J., in his Dictionary of the Bible, says: “Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the word was with the God [= the Father], and the word was a divine being.’”—(Brackets are his. Published with nihil obstat and imprimatur.) (New York, 1965), p. 317.

In harmony with the above, AT reads: “the Word was divine”; Mo, “the Logos was divine”; NTIV, “the word was a god.” In his German translation Ludwig Thimme expresses it in this way: “God of a sort the Word was.” Referring to the Word (who became Jesus Christ) as “a god” is consistent with the use of that term in the rest of the Scriptures. For example, at Psalm 82:1-6 human judges in Israel were referred to as “gods” (Hebrew, ’elo‧him′; Greek, the‧oi′, at John 10:34) because they were representatives of Jehovah and were to speak his law.


Jason David BeDuhn, Ph.D. in his book Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament says: “It is true that the most formal, literal translation of the words in John 1:1c would be “and the Word was a god.” The grammatical rules involved in this passage weigh very heavily against the more commonly seen, traditional translation, “and the Word was God.” However, translation is not only about rendering a passage word-for-word. It involves also consideration of broader syntax and the meaning of a passage as a whole.

“The grammatical construction used here can be called the qualitative or categorical use of the indefinite. Basically, that means x belongs to the category y, or “x is a y.” The examples I used in a letter now widely circulated are “Snoopy is a dog”; “The car is a Volkswagen”; and “John is a smart person.” The common translation “The Word was God” is as erroneous for this construction as it would be to say in English “Snoopy is dog”; “The car is Volkswagen”; or “John is smart person.” The indefinite article is mandatory because we are talking about a member of a class or category.

“Sometimes in English we can accomplish the same syntactical function by using a predicate adjective in place of the indefinite noun phrase. In the examples I gave above, this only works with “John is a smart person,” which means the same thing as “John is smart.” What Harner calls the qualitative sense is the same as what I call the categorical sense. In the many examples throughout the New Testament of the same grammatical construct as found in John 1:1c, the indefinite noun used is always a class or category to which the subject is said to belong. But in several of these examples, the category is used to suggest the quality the subject has, as in the many “a son of x” expressions found in the New Testament.

“Because of this evidence, we cannot rule out the possibility that for John quality was the center of focus rather than category”" Being honest to the original Greek, we cannot narrow the range of acceptable translation of John 1:1c any further than to say it is EITHER “And the Word was a god” OR “And the Word was divine.” I can, if pressed, explain at length why these two translations amount to the same thing FOR JOHN. But I also recognize that they leave open interpretation to a range of possible understandings. I am afraid I cannot do anything about that. If I were to say that the NWT translation is the only possible one, I would be committing the same offense as those who have said that “And the Word was God” is the only possible translation. The whole point of my work is to get us past these false assertions, and follow the original Greek, and follow it only as far as it takes us.

“What I can say is that “And the Word was God” is extremely difficult to justify, because it goes against the plain grammar of the passage. Either of the other two translations are acceptable, because the Greek allows them, while it does not obviously allow the traditional translation. What your correspondent needs to understand, in dealing with others on this question, is that the wording “The Word was divine” agrees 100% in meaning with “The Word was a god” and only 50% with “And the Word was God.” What must be given up from the latter wording is the absolute identity between Word and God that the traditional translation tried to impose. John clearly did not intend to make such an absolute identification, and that is precisely why he very carefully manipulates his word in the passage to rule it out. But, yes, John is putting the Word into the “god” or “divine” category, and that is as true if the wording is “a god” or “divine.”

“Remember, the Word is not a human person, and John does not use “god” for the Word to say he is talking about a prophet or a leader or an important person. The Word is a superhuman (hence “divine”) essence or being, very intimately connected to The God. How intimately? In what way connected? In what precise relationship? The answers to those questions are much more involved, and must be based on a reading of the Gospel of John as a whole, where John works very hard to make it all clear. And yes, there will be disagreements about how to understand this larger picture John is trying to convey.

“Of course, if your correspondent is using what I have written in arguments with people who favor the traditional translation, they are likely to seize upon my acceptance of “The Word was divine” as somehow a defense of their view. That is also something that cannot be helped. The idea of a Trinity developed over the centuries after the Gospel of John was written precisely as one solution to the questions raised by John’s wording. The JWs have a different solution to those same questions. I am not in a position to arbitrate such historical interpretations of the text. I think John went as far as he felt inspired to go in his understanding of things, and I do not fault him for not going further and for not answering all of the additional questions people have been able to raise since his time.

“The bottom line is that “The Word was a god” is exactly what the Greek says. “The Word was divine” is a possible meaning of this Greek phrasing. “The Word was God” is almost certainly ruled out by the phrasing John uses, and it is not equivalent to “The Word was divine” because without any justification in the original Greek it narrows the meaning from a quality or category (god/divine) to an individual (God).”

Jason David BeDuhn is an associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff. He holds a B.A. in Religious studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana, and M.T.S. in New Testament and Christian Origins from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in the Comparative Study of Religions from Indiana University, Bloomington.


Additional Reading:


“and was himself a divine person” (Edward Harwood, H KAINH DIAQHKH. London, 1776, 2 vols; 2nd ed. 1784, 2 vols. 1768)

“and the word was a god” (Newcome, 1808)

“the Word was God’s” (Crellius,as quoted in The New Testament in an Improved Version)

“and the Word was a divine being.” (La Bible du Centenaire, L’Evangile selon Jean, by Maurice Goguel,1928)

“the Logos was a god (John Samuel Thompson, The Montessoran; or The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists, Baltimore; published by the translator, 1829)

“the Word was divine” (Goodspeed’s An American Translation, 1939)

“the word was a god.” (Revised Version-Improved and Corrected)

“and god[-ly/-like] was the Word.” (Prof. Felix Just, S.J. - Loyola Marymount University)

“the Logos was divine” (Moffatt’s The Bible, 1972)

“the Word was God*[ftn. or Deity, Divine, which is a better translation, because the Greek definite article is not present before this Greek word] (International English Bible-Extreme New Testament, 2001)

“and the Word was a god” (Reijnier Rooleeuw, M.D. -The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ, translated from the Greek, 1694)

“[A]s a god the Command was” (Hermann Heinfetter, A Literal Translation of the New Testament,1863)

“The Word was a God” (Abner Kneeland-The New Testament in Greek and English, 1822)

“[A]nd a God (i.e. a Divine Being) was the Word” (Robert Young, LL.D. (Concise Commentary on the Holy Bible [Grand Rapids: Baker, n.d.], 54). 1885)

“the Word was a god” (Belsham N.T. 1809)

“And the logos was a god” (Leicester Ambrose, The Final Theology, Volume 1, New York, New York; M.B. Sawyer and Company, 1879)

“the Word was Deistic [=The Word was Godly] (Charles A.L. Totten, The Gospel of History, 1900)

”[A]nd was a god” (J.N. Jannaris, Zeitschrift fur die Newtestameutlich Wissencraft, (German periodical) 1901, International Bible Translators N.T. 1981)

“[A] Divine Person.” (Samuel Clarke, M.A., D.D., rector of St. James, Westminster, A Paraphrase on the Gospel of John, London)

“a God” (Joseph Priestley, LL.D., F.R.S. [Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1794], 37).)

“a God” (Lant Carpenter, LL.D (in Unitarianism in the Gospels [London: C. Stower, 1809], 156).)

“a god” (Andrews Norton, D.D. [Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Company, 1833], 74).)

“a God” (Paul Wernle,(in The Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 1, The Rise of Religion [1903], 16).)

“and the [Marshal] [Word] was a god.” (21st Century Literal)

[A]nd (a) God was the word” (George William Horner, The Coptic Version of the New Testament, 1911)

“[A]nd the Word was of divine nature” (Ernest Findlay Scott, The Literature of the New Testament, New York, Columbia University Press, 1932)

[T]he Word was a God” (James L. Tomanec, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Anointed, 1958)

“The Word had the same nature as God” (Philip Harner, JBL, Vol. 92, 1974)

“And a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word” (Siegfried Schulz, Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1975)

“and godlike sort was the Logos” (Johannes Schneider, Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1978)

“the Word was a divine Being” (Scholar’s Version-The Five Gospels, 1993)

“The Divine word and wisdom was there with God, and it was what God was” (J. Madsen, New Testament A Rendering , 1994)

“a God/god was the Logos/logos” (Jurgen Becker, Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1979)

“The Word/word was itself a divine Being/being.” (Curt Stage, The New Testament, 1907)

“the Word was of divine kind” (Lyder Brun (Norw. professor of NT theology), 1945)

“was of divine Kind/kind” (Fredrich Pfaefflin, The New Testament, 1949)

“godlike Being/being had the Word/word” (Albrecht, 1957)

“the word of the world was a divine being” (Smit, 1960)

“God(=godlike Being/being) was the Word/word” (Menge, 1961)

“divine (of the category divinity)was the Logos” (Haenchen (tr. By R. Funk), 1984)

“And the Word was divine.” (William Temple, Archbishop of York, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, London, Macmillan & Co.,1933)

The Word of Speech was a God” (John Crellius, Latin form of German, The 2 Books of John Crellius Fancus, Touching One God the Father, 1631)

“the word was with Allah[God] and the word was a god” (Greek Orthodox /Arabic Calendar, incorporating portions of the 4 Gospels, Greek Orthodox Patriarchy or Beirut, May, 1983)

“And the Word was Divine” (Ervin Edward Stringfellow (Prof. of NT Language and Literature/Drake University, 1943)

“and the Logos was divine (a divine being)” (Robert Harvey, D.D., Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Westminster College, Cambridge, in The Historic Jesus in the New Testament, London, Student Movement Christian Press1931)

‘the word was a divine being.’ (Jesuit John L. McKenzie, 1965, wrote in his Dictionary of the Bible: “Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated . . . ‘the word was a divine being.’)

“In a beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and a god was the Word.” (Interlineary Word for Word English Translation-Emphatic Diaglott)